Education in an Uncertain Future

I recently learned that we are expecting our second grandchild. Our first is but a few months old at this point. As the euphoria of that news begins to drift into thoughts of the future that these children may be facing, the topic of education comes up. What kind of “education” does the current generation get in the public indoctrination centers schools? What happens if this whole “house of cards” simply collapses under its own weight, whether through economic collapse, political collapse, war, or perhaps some black swan event that is completely unpredictable? With virtually all information having been moved from paper to digital format, what happens if those computers are suddenly rendered useless junk? Will the knowledge gained over the past 6,000 years simply be lost to a people incapable of functioning without computers? This whole line of thought is something that I think about on occasion – along with considering ways to preserve that knowledge.

When I was in high school, math was still taught using a slide rule. As I started college, the portable calculator was just starting to make its presence known. Only the wealthiest families could equip their students with the most basic of calculators (the rich kids always sat near the power outlets so they could plug their calculators in). The school had a “calculator room” where there were about a dozen keypads wired to a large unit (made by the Wang Corporation). Students had to wait their turn to use these calculators – or use the “old fashioned” slide rule (a.k.a. “slip stick”). The speed of change was incredible. By the time I graduated, battery-powered calculators were cheap enough to be owned by just about every student, and slide rules were quickly forgotten. In the span of just a couple of years, the knowledge of how to use a slide rule had disappeared from the public education system. Crude though it may seem, this is the technology that designed the Apollo program and landed men on the moon. It is what produced all the calculations used in the design of the Boeing 747. It is what was used to design every skyscraper and every piece of machinery up until the early 1970′s.

Without computers, the only way to design something to scale is to use paper and pencil and drafting instruments. In high school and college, drafting was strictly a paper design effort. Even several years out of college, my job of designing material handling equipment for a textile mill in North Carolina was done using conventional paper drafting. Later employment called for facilities design using AutoCAD software.

The skills that built our technological society are rapidly disappearing. I am among the last of the generation that used the pre-computer technology that has become little more than a curiosity in a museum. What would happen if something like the Carrington Event that happened on September 1, 1859 were to destroy the electronics that keep our world running? It has happened before, and at some point, it WILL happen again.

What can be done?

I have been collecting a few slide rules over the past few years, as well as instruction books to teach others how to use them. I recently purchased a fairly complete set of home schooling books, teacher’s guides, and workbooks from Keepers of The Faith. Included in the package is the complete set of McGuffey Readers, spelling, phonics, writing and grammar, a set of math books, and various other school books.

On a recent trip to the ECHO library, I made a list of various books that I thought one would need to rebuild at least some level of technology. When I got home, I searched through used book stores and added those books to my library. In some cases, they were only available in PDF format on-line, so they were printed out and bound.

Most of the books I have were purchased used or were being discarded and just waiting to be picked up. That small investment in time and resources is our insurance policy. It is there to make sure that, no matter what may happen to our complex and fragile system, our grandchildren will receive a good education. The next time you hear of someone discarding an old set of encyclopedias because they “need the room and it’s easier to look it up on Google”, take advantage of the opportunity to provide for the education of a future generation. When the Roman Empire collapsed, it led to the Dark Ages. Imagine what would happen should the current global empire collapse.

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Confederate Colonel and The Southern Agrarian blogs. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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